Summary: Daniel / Betty angst; finding comfort in familiarity. A belated Christmas story in which Betty makes Daniel an offer he can't refuse, only to make things more complicated…
Rating: PG (K-plus ).
Setting / Spoilers: Season 2, post "Bananas for Betty".
Character / Pairing: Daniel/Betty.
Disclaimer: I own nowt.
Feedback: Leave a review here (anonymous disabled) or a comment on the danielbetty comm. over on LJ, or drop me an email if you're desperate.
Notes: This is a songfic (oh noes!) based on "Strange Glue" by the Welsh band Catatonia. I've liked the song for ages, but it suddenly struck me one quite recent night that it suited Daniel and Betty (at least at this point in the season) perfectly. Still not sure where I'm going with it, though. The song lyrics are posted at the very end of the fic, and also partially form the chapter titles. Chapters will be quite lengthy, as is par for the course with my songfics, but I'm sure nobody minds… :)
As for my other story, "Rain Will Make The Flowers Grow", it's not dead, I promise. Real Life kind of got in the way for a while, and this bloody hiatus has most certainly not helped. Normal service will be resumed shortly, hopefully as soon as Channel 4 gets on with showing us the next episode…
Without further ado, read on…
Chapter One: We Both Came Apart At the Seams
23rd December, 2007
Two days until Christmas, and Betty Suarez was not feeling the festive spirit very much at all. As if the accident with the tree hadn't been bad enough, it looked like she'd be working for the majority of the holiday period thanks to Wilhelmina's evil plot to destroy Mode. There were a lot of pieces of pick up, and not just at the magazine; that the remaining staff had agreed to work on the last Sunday before Christmas said an awful lot about their commitment.
Daniel was trying to keep everything moving and putting on a positive front: that much was obvious. He'd even suggested she should spend the week between Christmas and New Year's with her family. In truth, Betty wanted to work. If she couldn't spend any part of Christmas with Henry, she didn't want to spend it with anyone…
Charlie had called, apparently, asking that Henry spend Christmas with her family, who were very eager to meet the proud father of their soon-to-be-arriving grandchild. It had been an order, not a request. Henry had planned a lovely evening for he and Betty: so lovely, in fact, that she wondered if it was too good to be true. When he dropped the bombshell as they were leaving the restaurant, it was all she could do to look at him; they argued in the street for thirty seconds, until Henry became embarrassed by the public attention and lowered his voice again.
He would be gone for two weeks – two weeks fewer to spend together within their rapidly-decreasing five-month timescale. Betty had accepted it, pretending it was fine; in fact, the blow kept on hitting the nearer Christmas approached, and she found herself starting to dread her favourite holiday. Their first – and last – Christmas together was simply not to be.
Henry had flown out to Tucson only two days after his announcement, on a last-minute, middle-of-the-night flight which she had not been able to attend to see him off. Perhaps, in retrospect, that was for the best; Betty wasn't sure how she would have coped. It didn't stop her feeling guilty about missing his departure, the guilt subsequently adding to her pre-Christmas woes.
Determined not to be beaten by her emotions, Betty had thrown all of her energy into helping to save Mode. The December issue had gone out on time, but with the computers still down and staffing still at a minimum, everyone was working overtime to get ahead on the January issue.
When even the usually oblivious Amanda had approached Betty to ask if Daniel was coping okay, Betty could have kicked herself for not realising something was wrong a lot sooner. Of course Daniel wasn't coping okay. He'd lost his father only a few short weeks ago, his sister had humiliated him and taken over the business in one fell swoop, and his mother was in jail – again. For all of her own problems, at least she had a family to spend the season with; Daniel had nobody.
It was approaching the end of the day, but there was none of the usual afternoon slowing. Mode staff were still rushing around with drawings and clothing rails, and Christina hadn't stopped sewing all day. (She'd stabbed herself with pins so many times that "bloodstain chic" was probably going to be the current issue's primary feature.) Daniel had retired to his office to read through the latest batch of hastily-written articles, whilst Betty tried to make organisation out of chaos. Really, it was just par for the course.
Betty had seen Daniel do his 'thumbs-up-and-wink' affirmation at least three times over the course of the afternoon, and after the fourth time had decided that enough was enough. The last recipient of the gesture had been Amanda; she strode out of Daniel's office and gave Betty a look of pleading horror.
"I just suggested a spread on animal print and he said it was okay." She mimicked Daniel's gesture on the last word. When Betty didn't register anything particularly wrong with this statement, Amanda incredulously added: "Animal print was last month!"
"Okay, okay. Uh… go doodle on your giant meeting pad. I'll talk to him."
Amanda adopted an expression that was something akin to gratitude (it was hard to tell with the sneer) and seemed to be about to say something, but decided against it. Casting a somewhat worried glance back towards Daniel – who was staring brainlessly at the wall – she then flounced off towards the meeting room, hips swaying exaggeratedly.
Betty let out a heavy sigh. Of all the times for Daniel to have a mid-life crisis, today was not the best. Deciding that the direct approach was called for, she headed cautiously into his office, knocking lightly on the door.
He seemed to snap out of his stupor. "Oh. Hi, Betty. How's it going out there?"
"It's going as well as can be expected. I think we're just about on track."
"There's just a few more things to sort out tomorrow, and-"
"Wait, what day is it?"
"Sunday," she told him. "You remember, your mother complained that it was meant to be a rest day?" Daniel's last telephone call to his mother had included this reprimand; he vowed never to tell her anything about work ever again.
"No, I meant the date…" he clarified.
"It's the 23rd."
"So tomorrow's Christmas Eve?"
Betty nodded. Daniel cast his gaze to the scurrying workers outside his office, still rushing and colliding in their efforts to hold the magazine together. His eyes alighted on the miniature Christmas tree that Betty had placed on her desk; it was a fibre-optic monstrosity, which sparkled in an endless rainbow of colours, but was otherwise undecorated. She'd just not had the time or inclination.
Daniel glanced at his watch: 3.45pm.
"Tell everyone to go home," he said. "For Christmas. And tell them not to come back until January."
"That's an order, Betty."
She knew there was to be no arguing with that tone of voice. Excusing herself, she stepped out into the corridor and stopped the first person she saw, telling them to pass on the message. The relieved worker set the rack he was pushing against the wall, nodded gratefully, and set off to tell everyone else.
Betty returned to Daniel's office and closed the door after her. He was once again staring blindly ahead, deep in thought. The articles lay unread on his desk.
"Okay, it's done," she said. Daniel didn't reply. "I think that'll earn you a 'Boss of the Year' award easily." This time he shrugged; at least it was better than nothing. Betty, undeterred, continued. "Is there anything you want me to finish up?"
Finally, he acknowledged her. "That order included you… Go home to your family."
She thought of home: her family, together; the awful bright pink tree; a Henry-shaped space at the table, as she had yet to tell her father he wouldn't be there as planned. It wasn't a very appealing image.
"No, no, I… I think I should really… do something." She fumbled around, looking for anything that needed doing. "There must be people who need calling."
"Betty, for God's sake!" Daniel leapt to his feet, sweeping the paper deliberately from his desk in frustration. The outburst caused Betty to jump in surprise, and Daniel, aware of her now-fearful expression, lowered his voice again. He ran a hand through his hair, sighing exasperatedly. "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to yell at you. I just don't want you to waste what's left of Christmas here with me. This place is my father's legacy, and whatever mess there is, I'll sort it out."
"I want to help you," she said.
"I know you do, and it's appreciated, but…" He gave her a serious look. "There's more to life than being my assistant. You have a family to spend Christmas with, and you should be with Henry right now, not stuck here."
Crestfallen, Betty walked a little further into the room, suddenly needing to sit down. "That's not going to happen…" she said.
Daniel immediately feared the worst, and images flew unbidden to his brain of what he wanted to do to Henry if he'd hurt Betty in any way. She sat herself down opposite Daniel's desk, smoothing her skirt self-consciously and tugging it over her knees, suddenly very aware of her own presence in the stark office.
Daniel approached her cautiously and hovered his hand over her shoulder for a few seconds, debating with himself, before finally placing it there, carefully. "Is it… over?"
Betty looked up at him. "No, not over. Just… well, Charlie called, and Henry has to spend Christmas with her family."
"It's okay. I'm okay. It's best that he's there, really."
Daniel wondered how Betty could take it so calmly. From what he could ascertain, Charlie sounded like a manipulative bitch, and Henry well and truly under her thumb.
Betty had fallen silent, lost to thought, and Daniel was at a loss as to what to say. He didn't have the words to make it better – Betty was the pep-talk queen – and those words he did have (mostly relating to his opinion of the entire Henry situation) were decidedly unhelpful.
Instead, he fell back on the age-old staple: actions speak louder…
He placed his other hand on her opposite shoulder, and with a firm but gentle grip, pulled her to her feet. Betty turned, somewhat curious, and Daniel took the opportunity to wrap her in a hug.
She didn't react at first, other than to stiffen at the contact. Betty was usually the one to initiate such gestures, and Daniel briefly wondered if he'd broken some kind of unspoken rule. After a few seconds, however, Betty relaxed in his arms and returned the hug.
Daniel wanted to say something. Something like "It's Henry's loss", or "You can do better". He found the words wouldn't form, and anyway Betty wouldn't want to hear it. They had agreed to disagree on the entire issue, and all he could do was be there for her when things like this happened.
When Betty tried and failed to stifle a loud sniff, he realised she was crying. She pulled out of his embrace, a little embarrassed, and wiped her eyes.
"Sorry. I'm just being stupid."
Daniel searched his pockets fumblingly, cursing himself for not carrying a handkerchief – what kind of a gentleman was he? – and then began to root through his desk drawers, finally emerging triumphantly with a half-empty box of Kleenex. Betty took one from the proffered box gratefully, and blew her nose.
"You're not being stupid," he told her. "You have every right to be upset."
"I don't, not really. At least I still have my family. It's just… this would have been our first Christmas. Our last one, too." She paused, squeezing the paper tissue in her fist. "Charlie ruins everything."
That seemed about right to Daniel. "You could always… have Christmas later," he suggested. "Just because it's called Christmas Day doesn't necessarily mean you need to celebrate it then."
Betty thought about it for a while, and realised Daniel was right. There was really nothing stopping her from saving her gifts for Henry until after his return, although she imagined it would take some persuasion to get him to agree. He was quite traditional, and wouldn't immediately accept the concept.
"You're right," she said. "Thank you."
"It's no prob-" Daniel's words were cut off by Betty launching herself at him for another hug. This was more familiar territory, at least, and she seemed to have cheered up. Daniel tentatively put his arms back around her.
"If you're going to send me home," she said, back to her old self, "then you'll have to lead by example. There's nothing more you can do here on your own." She was about to pull away again, when she felt Daniel's grip tighten around her. "Daniel?"
He was shaking; his head was buried in her shoulder. With a pang of realisation, Betty realised he was crying, and was at a loss. Oh, crap…
Over Daniel's shoulder, she saw Amanda approaching the office. The receptionist stopped dead just before entering when she saw the scene, and mouthed "Is everything okay?" exaggeratedly through the glass. Betty rolled her eyes and gave an awkward, sarcastic thumbs-up, trying to get rid of her.
Amanda looked a little worried and made to open the door. Betty mouthed "No" and waved her arms in a 'go away!' gesture, and even though Amanda hesitated, she eventually turned around and headed for the exit. Betty, relieved, focused back on the task in hand.
"Daniel, are… are you okay?"
Her voice broke through his distracted misery and he instantly pulled out of her arms, mortified that she'd caught him in such a moment of weakness. He turned away from her and walked to the window, where he stood and stared at the city lights below.
Betty reached for the box he'd retrieved earlier and went nearer, standing at arm's length behind him and reaching out to offer the Kleenex. He laughed quietly, and took one, but didn't turn back.
"What's wrong?" she asked, persevering.
"Nothing," he lied. "I'm fine."
Betty's hands went to her hips. "I don't know who you're trying to convince, mister. There's just the two of us right now, and you certainly can't pretend that I didn't just see that."
Daniel realised he wasn't going to get out of talking to her, and, after taking a moment to compose himself, he set about picking up the scattered papers from the floor, where he'd strewn them earlier. "I was thinking about Dad," he told her, honestly. "Not that our family Christmases were ever particularly… normal. But at least we were all together. This year it's… it's gone." He sighed. "And when I think about Mom in that place…"
Bradford Meade's last request of Betty echoed in her brain; cautiously, she scanned the corners of the room in case the Ghost of Millionaires Past had chosen to make a reappearance, relieved when there was nothing but the usual stark, white walls.
"Your father would want you to be happy, Daniel," she said, hoping it was enough. "This time next year everything will be better."
"Will it?" he asked. "I don't know how long Mom's going to be away for, I can't see Alexis and me ever getting along, and as for my Dad… he's not going to come back, is he?"
"You have to think positive," she said, although the words sounded very silly after what he'd been through recently. "At least Wilhelmina isn't here to steal Christmas…"
"I doubt even she could manage that," he said. "No matter how much else she's taken away."
"That's the spirit!" Betty was somewhat relieved to see that Daniel was faring better after talking it through, but she had a niggling feeling there was something else bothering him. He probably wasn't going to be any more forthcoming with it, though. "Now, promise me you'll go home."
He nodded, but with very little conviction. "I suppose so…"
Betty considered for a moment that Daniel wouldn't want to return home if there was no family-orientated Christmas to go home for, and she was struck with the bleak mental image of him spending the time alone at his apartment. In her mind, the scene was dark and lonely; the apartment was grey and uninviting and there was certainly no tree. She couldn't let him spend Christmas on his own, not when there was already a space at her family's dinner table that wouldn't be filled by Henry.
"Daniel, um…" She didn't know how to phrase the question without it sounding like charity, even though it was, in a way. Seeing as it had been the direct approach which got her into this situation, she decided to just let it out. "Would you like to spend Christmas with me?"
"What?" Despite his surprise, his eyes lit up just slightly, and Betty knew she had him hooked, no matter what he might say to the contrary.
"With my family, I mean," she added. "Dad and Hilda would be happy to have you – Justin, too."
"Betty, that's…" That's more than I deserve, he thought. "I can't impose on your family at this time of year."
"You wouldn't be imposing. And seriously? There's no better time of year. We have enough food to feed an army."
Daniel was lost for words. He desperately wanted to accept Betty's offer, but something inside wouldn't let him. He thought of Betty's warm, colourful home, her wonderful family… and then he thought of his own – deceased, disbanded and distant. "Are you sure nobody will mind?"
She smiled. "I'm absolutely certain. Besides, I could do with some distraction from… you know." She lowered her head a little, hoping that Daniel wouldn't think he was just second choice after Henry. Daniel was still reeling from the offer, and the thought never crossed his mind.
"Thank you. It means a lot."
An amicable silence followed. Daniel was beginning to feel just a little excited about Christmas again, a feeling he hadn't properly felt since childhood. Betty's offer had also solved the problem of when Daniel was going to hand over her present. The last few days at Mode had been too hectic to find the chance to do so, and he had half-considered – quite ironically – going over to her place on the day itself to post it through the letter box, except he had eventually decided against it. He hadn't wanted her to feel like he was interfering in her out-of-work time, especially as he knew he wouldn't get away silently and that Ignacio or Hilda would undoubtedly make him stay. They were decent people – the kind of people Daniel rarely associated with or had any experience of.
Daniel's gaze was once again drawn to the tree on Betty's desk.
"You never decorated your tree," he said, rather pointlessly.
"Oh, I know. I bought it just before Henry took me to dinner the other night… I wasn't really feeling the festive spirit very much after that."
"Do you have any decorations?"
"They're in my desk. Why?"
Daniel didn't answer her, merely swept past her, out of his office, and strode over to her desk. He found the box of decorations easily – they were cheap plastic ornaments that she'd bought in bulk – and opened it up. Betty followed him out of the room curiously.
"Well?" he said. "Aren't you going to help?"
For the next half an hour, they decorated the tree with baubles, beads and bells, far too many for the tree's diminutive form. When they ran out of branches, they adorned Betty's desk, monitor and chair. She was glad to see Daniel enjoying himself, and she wondered why she'd left the tree abandoned. She supposed the disaster at home hadn't helped: no tree would compare to her family's traditionally-decorated one.
Finally, the box was empty but for a silver-clad fairy.
"Which of us does the honours?" asked Betty.
"Our tree was always pre-decorated," Daniel reminded her.
She shrugged. "My dad usually put the fairy on top. So I guess around here that would be…" She let the sentence trail off. Bradford. Around here, that would be Bradford…
"That would be Alexis," said Daniel, shaking off the sudden melancholy that had infected the moment. "As the new head of the Meade empire. But as she's not here…" He reached into the box quickly and positioned the fairy atop the tree as best he could, given how little room there was left.
They stood back to admire their handiwork. The fibre-optic lights twinkled away happily.
"You know…" said Daniel, after a thoughtful pause, "I think that may be the ugliest tree I ever saw."
Betty laughed. "Trust me, you haven't seen the pink monstrosity at el casa de Suarez yet."
Daniel considered that any tree was better than no tree at all, which is what would have greeted him at his apartment.
"I'm sure it looks fine," he reassured her, looking forward to spending some time with Betty's family again. It had been far too long.
"Come on, then," she said. "Let's get out of here."
Betty held out a hand in anticipation, as if about to lead a small child across a busy road. Daniel looked at it for a moment, then gave a smile and took it. Betty led him to the elevator, swinging their hands casually. As they waited for the elevator car to arrive, the Mode floor's janitor passed by. He tipped his hat and wished them a Merry Christmas, then carried on his way, towards Daniel's office.
The elevator pinged and its doors slid open as it announced the floor and that it was "Going down". Just before they entered, the janitor turned off the lights in Daniel's room and Betty's adjoining office, and they caught a glimpse of her tree, all lit up and sparkly, before it, too, was switched off.
They exchanged a smile, stepped into the elevator, and the doors closed.
To be continued...
A/N: As I said, the chapters are going to be long, as there is a lot of stuff to get in around very few lyrics... I'm not completely happy with this first chapter because it takes a lot of words to explain not very much, but at least it has shippiness. :P And there will be more to come, so watch this space.
Please leave a review. Even if it's just to bug me about "Rain". I will finish it. Honest...